I'm grateful for the mentors I've had throughout my career. I’ve learned from passionate people who have inspired me to test my drive, push boundaries and move into a rewarding career path in an industry I love.
I realize connections and opportunities like these aren't always common; receiving mentorship and participating in leadership development initiatives has been a huge privilege, especially since the most recent data shows most people in the travel industry often don’t have access to these structured programs.
In Phocuswright’s latest gender parity study, 76% of respondents said their biggest obstacle to rise into leadership positions is no access to a formal leadership track. On top of that, three out of four survey respondents said their companies did not offer or they weren’t aware of a mentorship program or initiative that was available to them.
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I know that not every business is equipped to create, support and manage a formal leadership development program, so how can we all work together to help nurture careers and gain gender parity in the travel industry, even without a structured or sponsored program?
In travel, we currently tackle this by nurturing specific skill sets that will help grow the industry as a whole. In the same Phocuswright study, around half of the respondents identified skills like complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity as the three most important skills we need if we want to grow the industry over the next three years.
This seems fair, and not that different from any other industry. But digging deeper into the gender parity study, I saw an opportunity and a skill set that our industry could champion: active listening.
What is active listening?
In the study, only about one in five respondents think active listening is a critical skill for industry or business growth. But hear me out (see what I did there?): Studies have shown that active listening can improve working relationships and boost communication skills. And, active listening helps increase your awareness of your own biases so that you can interrupt them before they influence decision-making.
So, what is active listening, really? At its core, active listening is simply paying closer attention. Sounds straightforward, but in today’s world of distractions it’s easy to get lost in your own thoughts.
Active listening is a skill we can apply every day in both formal and informal settings to replicate the benefits of a mentorship program.
How many times have you been speaking in a meeting, only to see people scrolling on their phones or tapping away on their computers? How many of you are guilty of this yourself?
We as listeners are faced with constant barriers to truly understand what’s being said - from our own unconscious bias and personal experiences, to confusion based on the speaker’s use of ambiguous or confusing language.
While it takes practice and patience, I believe it’s a key skill set for those intent on becoming this industry’s next leaders and for those already in leadership positions to adequately support rising leaders. Active listening is a skill we can apply every day in both formal and informal settings to replicate the benefits of a mentorship program and leadership development initiative.
So, how do we shift into good listening? It’s about asking questions and creating a dialogue.
In your next meeting, try this: First, put away the mobile and close the computer. Next, listen to your colleague and ask clarifying questions, or, better yet, restate, in your own language, their point to confirm that what you heard is what they intended to say.
From active listening to strengths-based work
Active listening opens doors to growth in unexpected ways. I'm a huge believer of strengths-based work - a strength isn't just something you're good at doing; it's also something you enjoy doing.
When I coach team members, active listening helps me identify their strengths and better recognize the language and tone they're using to describe something (are they excited or drained?). Through this, I can then spot new projects for them to take on that leverage their strengths (or identify when a project should be delegated to another team member), ultimately supporting their career growth.
My own career growth has benefited from active listening, as well. As I was considering applying for a new role, a former manager spotted that that role I was considering was a "safe" move and similar to work I had done earlier in my career. She also spotted that I was most energized by (but nervous about) the prospect of a role in a different part of the organization where I would truly be outside my comfort zone.
Through our dialogue, she helped me identify my transferable skills and build confidence in the value I could bring to the other team. In the end, her active listening helped me see a new opportunity for growth. I ended up getting the role, and have her to thank for it.
So, if your business doesn’t support a formal career growth initiative or mentor program, I encourage you to cultivate active listening within your own teams to see how it can build new leadership paths and opportunities.
Who knows, it might lay the groundwork for your business to cultivate its own formal leadership development and mentoring initiatives.